Talen Horton-Tucker

Jazz Notes: Horton-Tucker, Kessler, Sexton, Defense

After earning the starting point guard job in the preseason, Talen Horton-Tucker has received some criticism for his part in the Jazz‘s slow start this season, writes Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune. Horton-Tucker is shooting a career-worst 38.8% from the field, while his 2.3 turnovers per game would be a career high.

In a conversation with Larsen, Horton-Tucker noted that, at age 22, he’s the same age as second-year wing Ochai Agbaji, so he believes he has “the opportunity to only get better.” He also pointed out that it’s his first time playing point guard on a full-time basis.

“I feel like people should be believing in me,” Horton-Tucker said. “I know I take some shots sometimes that are, like, different. It’s one thing that we always talk about: All the shots that I shoot in the games are shots that my coaches and teammates have seen me make. So it’s not coming from a place where it’s forced or — it’s not like, you know, selfish.

“So I’m just really trying to get everybody understand to me a little bit more, to know that anything that I do is never coming from a selfish place. I’m trying to get better, get my teammates better, get in communication with everybody, and just try to get it right on the court. Being an extension of [head coach Will Hardy], is another thing I’ve been trying to do lately.”

Horton-Tucker is on an expiring $11MM contract and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2024 if he doesn’t sign an extension before then.

Here’s more out of Utah:

  • Jazz center Walker Kessler hasn’t yet been officially ruled out for Wednesday’s game in Indianapolis – he’s listed as doubtful – but Tony Jones of The Athletic (Twitter link) suggests Kessler’s left elbow sprain is an injury that may cost him multiple games. While it’s not expected to be a long-term issue, Utah will likely have to replace Kessler in its starting lineup in the short term, Jones adds.
  • Collin Sexton is adjusting to a new role early in the season as the Jazz continue to experiment with their backcourt combinations, says Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. Rather than leaning on him for ball-handling and play-making, the team is asking Sexton to play more off the ball and to not hesitate to shoot corner threes or attack the basket when he gets the chance. “Our roster has a lot of capable guards in bringing it up the floor, and so we tried to shift Collin’s mindset the last (few) games in terms of, ‘Let’s get you off the ball,’ because we think that’s best for him, and ultimately that will help the team,” head coach Will Hardy said. “And he’s responded really, really well.”
  • One of the reasons the Jazz’s defense has been so poor so far this season is a lack of communication on the court and during timeouts, according to Sarah Todd of The Deseret News, who suggests that the team has been without a vocal leader since Mike Conley‘s departure last season. “It’s hard. There’s part of it that’s like, who’s gonna talk?” Hardy said. “With a new group, who is the leader? Who are we looking at? And sometimes everybody’s just kind of looking at each other like, ‘Are you gonna say it or am I gonna say it?'”

Western Notes: THT, K. George, Kings, Booker, Pokusevski

After letting several players battle for the role in training camp and preseason, the Jazz made Talen Horton-Tucker their starting point guard on Wednesday. According to Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune, head coach Will Hardy explained that a domino effect related to two other starters was a major factor in the decision.

“Talen pairs well with Jordan (Clarkson). Jordan is very much a good pairing with Lauri (Markkanen), because he provides a second threat offensively, a second ball-handler, a second play-maker, a second focal point of the offense,” Hardy said. “When we made the determination that Jordan was going to play with Lauri, Talen was the best fit to play with Jordan.”

As Larsen notes, of the players on Utah’s current roster, No. 16 overall pick Keyonte George is the best bet to be the point guard of the future. George had a solid debut, scoring eight points on 3-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes (Horton-Tucker had eight points on 3-of-9 shooting in 22 minutes), but Hardy isn’t ready to throw the rookie in the deep end by starting him and playing him heavy minutes.

“I think that Keyonte is a good player. I think we have high expectations for Keyonte and his future,” the Jazz coach said. “But in no way are we going into these games just saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to play Keyonte to play Keyonte.’ I thought he was reading the game well, he made some really good decisions. He made some great passes to shots that didn’t go in. But, I thought that in the flow of the game, he had a good thing going.”

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • The Kings were the feel-good story of 2022/23, winning 48 games and snapping a 16-season playoff drought, but head coach Mike Brown isn’t satisfied with their achievements, telling the team entering this season that “good is the enemy of great,” as Anthony Slater and Sam Amick of The Athletic detail in an in-depth piece on the team’s desire to reach the next level. “I feel like he’s erased everything we did last year from his memory, from our memory,” Domantas Sabonis said of Brown. “He only brings up that we lost against the Warriors (in the first round of the playoffs). He’s definitely pushing us harder, and I love it. It’s fair. That happens usually (where) guys get complacent or think, ‘Oh, whatever we did last year.’ But if we don’t do all the little details, nothing’s going to change, you know?”
  • Suns guard Devin Booker missed Thursday’s game due to what has been diagnosed as a left mid-foot sprain, according to TNT’s Jared Greenberg (Twitter link), who says the injury occurred during Tuesday’s win over Golden State. Booker will undergo an MRI upon returning to Phoenix and is aiming to return to the court on Tuesday vs. San Antonio, a team source tells Greenberg.
  • When the Thunder announced on September 20 that Aleksej Pokusevski had sprained his right ankle in a workout, they said he would be reevaluated in six weeks. However, Pokusevski was active for the team’s regular season opener on Wednesday, beating a recovery timeline that would’ve sidelined him until November, tweets Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. The fourth-year forward may not be part of Oklahoma City’s regular rotation at this point though — he only played two minutes of garbage time in Wednesday’s victory over Chicago.

Rockets Eye Alec Burks, Talen Horton-Tucker

The Rockets cut ties with Kevin Porter Jr. by agreeing to trade the troubled guard and two future second-round picks to the Thunder for injured guard Victor Oladipo and big man Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.

However, the Rockets may not be through making deals before next week’s regular season opener, Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports reports. They may look to move Oladipo, combined with other second-round picks, to upgrade their roster.

Houston has held trade discussions with the Pistons regarding veteran guard Alec Burks, who has an expiring $10,489,600 contract. Fischer notes that his contract nearly matches Oladipo’s $9.5MM expiring salary.

It’s not clear if the Pistons would be interested a trade for Oladipo, who is recovering from a torn patellar tendon in his left knee, and some type of sweetener.

The Pistons have other options at guard beyond franchise player Cade Cunningham. New head coach Monty Williams is mulling whether to start lottery pick Ausar Thompson and bring Jaden Ivey off the bench. Detroit also traded for Monte Morris and Joe Harris this offseason, with rookie Marcus Sasser and Killian Hayes also battling for playing time.

Houston has also contacted the Jazz regarding Talen Horton-Tucker. Tucker has an $11.02MM expiring contract and his role with Utah is uncertain, due to the strong play of Kris Dunn and rookie Keyonte George.

The Rockets have some interest in Malcolm Brogdon as well, although the Trail Blazers and Rockets have not held significant discussions. Portland has indicated that it wants to hold onto Brogdon, who was acquired from Boston in the Jrue Holiday deal. Houston also wouldn’t be able to aggregate Oladipo’s salary with another player for two months after finalizing its trade with Oklahoma City. Brogdon is earning $22.5MM.

Fischer also delivered some other interesting tidbits in his story:

  • Prior to the Thunder’s trade with the Rockets, veteran forward Davis Bertāns‘ name was passing through the rumor mill. The Thunder had a roster logjam prior to the deal and still needs to clear another spot, but Bertans is safe. Not only could his perimeter shooting help the Thunder, his $16MM salary for 2024/25 is only guaranteed for $5MM. That could make him a valuable trade piece approaching February’s trade deadline.
  • The Rockets held conversations with several other teams regarding Porter that would have required them to throw in more second-rounders to get him off their roster. Oklahoma City had planned to waive Oladipo if it couldn’t find a trade for him.
  • Few rival executives anticipate that the Pacers’ Buddy Hield will be traded prior to the season. The Pacers had looked at potential deals involving Hield after contract extension talks stalled, but it sounds like there’s no traction toward a move.

Jazz Notes: Dunn, George, THT, Clarkson, Hendricks

Sarah Todd of The Deseret News believes Kris Dunn has been the Jazz‘s best point guard so far this fall, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be named the starter at the position. As Todd writes, head coach Will Hardy appears more focused on backcourt pairings and how well they play together than singling out a starter.

With that in mind, Todd suggests it might make sense for Dunn to come off the bench alongside Keyonte George. That would alleviate some pressure on George by allowing him to be part of the second unit rather than the starting five and by pairing him with a stellar perimeter defender like Dunn.

Whatever Dunn’s role ends up being, Hardy values what the veteran guard brings to the team, praising his “tenacity,” as well as the “fight and hunger” he shows on the court, according to Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune (subscription required). The Jazz coach still isn’t tipping his hand on the starting lineup though.

“I think there are opportunities for us to change the (starting) lineup at certain times, depending on who we’re playing,” Hardy said. “We’re always looking at it like we’re trying to maximize 48 minutes, but yes, Kris is somebody who could be in that (starting point guard) slot. He could potentially be there the opening night of the season, he could not.”

Here’s more out of Utah:

  • As both Todd and Larsen point out within their observations on Dunn, the former No. 5 overall pick won’t become extension-eligible before reaching unrestricted free agency in 2024, so if the Jazz want to sign him beyond this season, they may need to ward off other suitors next summer to do so.
  • Tony Jones of The Athletic wonders if Talen Horton-Tucker and Jordan Clarkson, who have started the last two preseason games, will emerge as Utah’s starting backcourt. Neither is a traditional point guard, but their skill sets complement the team’s frontcourt starters, Jones writes, noting that the offense has looked better with Horton-Tucker and Clarkson starting.
  • With so much depth in their backcourt, the Jazz have been experimenting this preseason with having three or four guards on the court at once, per Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. Count big man Kelly Olynyk among those who like the idea. “It’s a different look, obviously, for defenses to have to guard [against] four guards — the floor space, everything’s wide open, it gives everybody lots of room to pass, cut, move,” Olynyk said. “Obviously, rebounding is a big key in those stretches and those lineups. But it just gives the defenses a totally different look; they probably can’t guard the same way they guard the rest of the game, so they have to make adjustments, do different things, and change the pace of the game a little.”
  • The Jazz haven’t given lottery pick Taylor Hendricks significant playing time this preseason, which can probably be attributed to Hardy’s “no free minutes” approach, Larsen writes for The Salt Lake Tribune. Hardy told reporters over the weekend that Hendricks is still feeling out his role, adding that he appreciates that the rookie “doesn’t think that he’s owed anything.”

Western Notes: Jazz, Holiday, Morant, Vezenkov, Strawther

The Jazz were involved in the Jrue Holiday sweepstakes before the All-Defensive guard was traded from Portland to Boston, according to Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune.

Larsen hears that Utah considered an offer that included multiple first-round picks for the standout guard. However, he notes that ESPN’s Bobby Marks said during a radio appearance that the Jazz were wary of pursuing Holiday too aggressively without any assurances that he’d commit to the team long-term. The 33-year-old holds a player option for the 2024/25 season, so he could have been just a one-year rental.

Having missed out on Holiday, the Jazz don’t have a clear-cut option to start at point guard and it’s clear that head coach Will Hardy is “struggling with this decision,” Larsen writes. As Tony Jones of The Athletic notes, each of the candidates for the role has exhibited his flaws as well as his strengths so far during camp and the preseason.

Collin Sexton isn’t a natural point guard and Talen Horton-Tucker and Keyonte George are still relatively raw as point guards, according to Jones, who adds that starting Kris Dunn would make it tricky for the team to find minutes off the bench for Sexton. Jordan Clarkson was also considered a candidate for the point guard job, but the Jazz appear more comfortable having him in a sixth-man role, so the competition could be down to four players.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • When Ja Morant‘s 25-game suspension was announced in June, the NBA indicated that the Grizzlies guard would have to meet certain conditions to be reinstated. The league provided an update this week, indicating that Morant’s suspension won’t be shortened but also isn’t expected to extend beyond 25 games, report Sam Amick and Joe Vardon of The Athletic.
  • Ziaire Williams played well as the Grizzlies‘ fifth starter in Tuesday’s preseason win over Milwaukee, but head coach Taylor Jenkins isn’t ready to commit to that spot for the regular season, writes Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Luke Kennard appears to be Williams’ top competition for that starting spot, with Jake LaRavia, David Roddy, and John Konchar looming as wild card, per Cole.
  • Kings head coach Mike Brown is unsure whether NBA newcomer Sasha Vezenkov will be part of the team’s rotation when the regular season begins, per Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. In a separate story, Anderson points out that Vezenkov started in place of injured forward Keegan Murray (thumb) on Wednesday, but Chris Duarte took Vezenkov’s spot in the lineup to open the third quarter. According to Brown, Vezenkov’s ability to hold his own on defense will be a significant factor in determining his role.
  • Nuggets rookie Julian Strawther, vying for a rotation spot, had an impressive preseason debut on Tuesday vs. Phoenix, piling up 20 points, five rebounds, and three assists with no turnovers in 21 minutes off the bench. Bennett Durando of The Denver Post has the details, observing that Strawther’s ability to space the floor may help earn him a regular role.

Jazz Notes: Point Guard Battle, Collins, Markkanen, More

Jazz head coach Will Hardy anticipates a “vicious” competition for the starting point guard job in training camp, likening the upcoming battle to “the Hunger Games,” writes Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune. As Larsen notes, Collin Sexton, Talen Horton-Tucker, Jordan Clarkson, Kris Dunn, and rookie Keyonte George are all expected to be in the mix.

“Those five guys are gonna go at it at training camp, and I love that. But we’ve got to make sure that it’s within a team construct,” Hardy said. “Individual motives are good and powerful, and we need to lean into those. But we also have to remember that we have 82 games coming, where we’re all wearing the same jersey.”

Many of the Jazz’s backcourt players aren’t traditional point guards, which Hardy says he’ll keep in mind when considering potential lineup combinations and backcourt duos.

“We have a lot of really good guards, and I don’t want to say, ‘You’re the point guard and you’re the (shooting guard).’ I don’t think that fits our group best,” the second-year head coach said. “It’s more about viewing them as pairs. I’m not relying on one person to bring it up each time and sort of initiate what we’re doing. That flexibility is going to be an adjustment for us.”

Here’s more on the Jazz:

  • Newcomer John Collins said on Monday that he has found the Jazz’s “lack of ego” and emphasis on playing team basketball “refreshing,” adding that he’s looking forward to getting a fresh start in Utah this season, Larsen writes for The Salt Lake Tribune. “In some ways, I feel like a rookie again,” Collins said. “To meet new staff, new teammates, this new environment … to get myself together in a new city.”
  • Utah added several new pieces to its roster this offseason, including Collins and a trio of first-round picks. It’ll be up to the coaching staff to determine how all those pieces fit together, as Tony Jones of The Athletic details. “I’m really excited to see how training camp plays out, because we’re going to have a lot of internal competition,” general manager Justin Zanik said. “I will say it won’t be all figured out by the beginning of camp. This group has a collective resolve to compete with each other but to also pull for each other and help each other improve and develop. And that will be a season-long thing. There has to be a culture of flexibility among the group, because we have a lot of depth and not everyone can play every night.”
  • In a separate article for The Athletic, Jones takes a closer look at Lauri Markkanen‘s experience completing his mandatory military service for his home country of Finland this offseason. Markkanen believes his time in the military made him more resilient, helped him deal with new situations, and could make him a better leader.
  • Jazz assistant Scott Morrison would be the next man up if Hardy is ejected from a game this season, according to Larsen, who adds (via Twitter) that Jeff Hornacek has remained in his role as a coaching consultant for the club.

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Hagans, Jazz, Snyder

Damian Lillard is staying focused on business as he waits to learn where he’ll be reporting to training camp in six weeks, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. It’s been nearly two months since Lillard asked the Trail Blazers for a trade, preferably to Miami, but the market has remained quiet throughout the summer.

“Mentally, I’m strong,” Lillard said Friday at his Formula Zero elite basketball camp in Phoenix. “I think the last year and some change in my life overall, it’s not even just sports, it’s been a tough time, but right now, I’m in a strong place. Anytime I can come be in this environment. Like I said, it’s a lot of my loved ones that are here doing what we do at this camp, pouring into people, that brings me joy. That’s something that lifts me up so to be here is helpful.”

Lillard is coming off his best statistical year, averaging 32.2 PPG in 58 games before being shut down late in the season. He’s devoted much of the summer to traveling and family time, but he’s also preparing to help the Blazers, Heat or any other team he winds up with.

“I’ve had a great summer of training,” Lillard said. “I do a lot of things now to pour into myself and lift myself up and it’s been really helpful. So I would say I’m in a very strong place. My process has been the same going into the season that it’s been any other time except I’m just getting better as a man. I think that really helps me as far as my career goes. Anytime I can be improving myself as a man, it’s going to be positive for me.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Ashton Hagansagreement with the Trail Blazers will be an Exhibit 10 deal, tweets Chris Haynes of TNT and Bleacher Report. Haynes reported on Friday that the 24-year-old point guard is expected to join Portland for training camp.
  • The Jazz may not have a set rotation at point guard until well into the season, suggests Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. Kris Dunn, Collin Sexton, Talen Horton-Tucker and Keyonte George will all compete for time at the position, and Jordan Clarkson and Ochai Agbaji may run the offense occasionally as well. Todd suggests that Dunn may be the favorite to start if he plays as well as he did last season, but the trade market could factor into playing time decisions.
  • In a separate story, Todd looks at highlights of the Jazz schedule, including Hawks head coach Quin Snyder returning to Utah for the first time on March 15.

Jazz Notes: Point Guard, Streaming, Fontecchio

While most of the Jazz‘s starting five is known, there’s still a bit of mystery surrounding who will take the reins of the starting point spot. Tony Jones of The Athletic breaks down five options Utah has at the spot, including Kris Dunn, Talen Horton-Tucker, Jordan Clarkson (if he doesn’t start at shooting guard), Collin Sexton and Keyonte George.

There are pros and cons to every option. Horton-Tucker offers the physicality and athletic tools that Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler and John Collins do, but he’s still raw at playing the point. Clarkson allows Utah to play with its lineup options but gives the team just one ball-handler in its starting lineup and affects their point-of-attack defense. Jones believes that Dunn’s ability to defend and willingness to defer make him the most natural option to start at point guard.

I recommend reading the piece in full, as Jones provides in-depth insight for each option. Regardless of who ends up taking over the 2023/24 starting spot, Jones says that George could very well be the starting point guard of the future.

There’s more Utah:

  • The Jazz announced they have partnered with technology company Kiswe to begin a streaming service that will be available to fans as soon as this upcoming season, Sarah Todd of The Deseret News reports. According to Todd, the price point and release date will be revealed in late September, right around when the product goes on sale. This is the latest in a flurry of moves by Jazz owner Ryan Smith in making games more accessible to fans. For example, the team announced in June that Smith Entertainment Group, the parent company of the Jazz, was partnering with KJZZ to bring games to television again.
  • Jazz forward Simone Fontecchio is suiting up for Italy in the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Italy has gotten off to a hot start in their prep games, with Fontecchio scoring 17 points against Greece. In a recent interview with Eurohoops, Fontecchio spoke about his team’s current success. “We want to do our best and play well,” Fontecchio said, “You need to be lucky, to arrive in the perfect condition and play one game at a time. We have a good group.
  • In case you missed it, the Jazz are projected to have the third-most cap space in the 2024 offseason, with Spotrac contributor Keith Smith projecting Utah to have $41.6MM in space, behind the Spurs and Magic.

Jazz Guard Horton-Tucker Opts In For Next Season

Jazz guard Talen Horton-Tucker is opting into his contract for next season, Brian Windhorst of ESPN tweets. Horton-Tucker’s player option will pay him a salary of $11,020,000 in 2023/24.

There’s been a lot of speculation whether the 22-year-old guard would exercise the option or test the free agent market and seek at least the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. He ultimately chose to take the guaranteed money and put off free agency for another year.

Horton-Tucker, who spent his first three seasons with the Lakers, averaged 10.7 points, 3.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 65 games (20 starts) last season in Utah.

He’s a subpar perimeter shooter (28% on 3-point attempts in his career), which may have held down his value if he had opted out. He’ll attempt to continue building his value in advance of unrestricted free agency in 2024.

Horton-Tucker slots in as a second-unit player, though that could change depending on how the offseason shakes out. Jordan Clarkson holds a $14.26MM option on his contract.

Clarkson and Horton-Tucker are two of four Jazz veterans who entered the offseason facing player option decisions, as our tracker shows. Rudy Gay and Damian Jones both picked up their options, though Gay is being traded to Atlanta as part of his opt-in.

Northwest Notes: Jazz, Prince, Malone, Murray

Four player option decisions will help shape the Jazz roster for next season, writes Trent Wood of The Deseret News. Jordan Clarkson, Rudy Gay, Talen Horton-Tucker and Damian Jones all have to determine soon if they will accept their salaries for 2023/24 or test the free agent market.

Jones is first in line, with a June 23 deadline to decide on his $2.6MM option. The 27-year-old center signed with the Lakers last summer and came to Utah in a three-team trade in February. He saw steady playing time as a back-up center with the Jazz, averaging 4.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in 19 games.

The other three players have until June 29, and Wood sees Gay as the most likely to opt in as the 36-year-old almost certainly won’t top his $6.5MM salary in free agency. The others face tougher decisions, especially if Utah takes a guard in the draft, Wood adds. Horton-Tucker had an up-and-down season, and the team may not try to re-sign him if he opts out. Clarkson is a fan favorite and just put together one of his best NBA seasons, but he may not be in the long-term plans if the Jazz decide to rebuild, according to Wood.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Timberwolves could look to trade Taurean Prince to help ease their salary crunch or possibly to acquire another ball-handler, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic states in a mailbag column. Prince has a $7.5MM salary for next season that becomes guaranteed on June 28.
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe profiles the journey of Nuggets coach Michael Malone from being fired in Sacramento to building an NBA champion in Denver. The son of former NBA coach Brendan Malone spent 20 years in the league before winning his first title. “To get to this point, to win a championship is just, as you reflect upon all the people who helped you get here,” Malone said. “This is like a many, many years-long process, and you don’t do it by yourself.”
  • The Nuggets were thrilled to celebrate with their fans at Thursday’s victory parade as most of the players are first-time champions, per Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Jamal Murray was focused on enjoying the experience rather than recording it for posterity. “The best part of the day was just being present,” he said. “It wasn’t about taking videos. It was just about being in the moment, appreciating the fans. … They give me energy, they give me life during the game, so I can only thank them so much.”